One of Library Journal’s 10 Best Books of 2015
Following his acclaimed Atlantic and The Men Who United the States, New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester offers an enthralling biography of the Pacific Ocean and its role in the modern world, exploring our relationship with this imposing force of nature.
As the Mediterranean shaped the classical world, and the Atlantic connected Europe to the New World, the Pacific Ocean defines our tomorrow. With China on the rise, so, too, are the American cities of the West coast, including Seattle, San Francisco, and the long cluster of towns down the Silicon Valley.
Today, the Pacific is ascendant. Its geological history has long transformed us—tremendous earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis—but its human history, from a Western perspective, is quite young, beginning with Magellan’s sixteenth-century circumnavigation. It is a natural wonder whose most fascinating history is currently being made.
In telling the story of the Pacific, Simon Winchester takes us from the Bering Strait to Cape Horn, the Yangtze River to the Panama Canal, and to the many small islands and archipelagos that lie in between. He observes the fall of a dictator in Manila, visits aboriginals in northern Queensland, and is jailed in Tierra del Fuego, the land at the end of the world. His journey encompasses a trip down the Alaska Highway, a stop at the isolated Pitcairn Islands, a trek across South Korea and a glimpse of its mysterious northern neighbor.
Winchester’s personal experience is vast and his storytelling second to none. And his historical understanding of the region is formidable, making Pacific a paean to this magnificent sea of beauty, myth, and imagination that is transforming our lives.
Earth's largest ocean inspires expansive ruminations from renowned British journalist Winchester (The Map That Changed the World) in this far-ranging but unfocused and overwrought meditation on recent geo-history. Winchester spotlights post-WWII episodes that crystallize an increasingly Pacific-centered modernity: atomic testing at Bikini Atoll and the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo symbolize the horrors of the Cold War; the 1972 burning of the liner Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbor symbolizes the sunset of Western imperialism; Sony Corp.'s development of transistor radios symbolizes the rising Asian industrial colossus; typhoons and bleached coral reefs symbolize the threat of climate change; the surfing movie Gidget symbolizes the globalization of Hawaii's dolce vita. Winchester's organizing principle things that happen in or around the Pacific yields little thematic coherence beyond platitudes such as "There is just one world." The "unchallengeable superlative" of his oceanic subject stimulates his own limitless penchant for hyperbole and lurid metaphor: one surfboard manufacturer is called "powerful beyond imagination," and he describes a wrecked warship's cannons "lolling out of their upended casements like the tongues of the hanged Mussolinis." Still, Winchester's vigorous prose and tireless dragnetting of interesting lore make this an entertaining read.
Worth the Read
The author had some interesting, if prejudiced, perspectives. Worth the read merely to gain a better sense how a Brit who lives in Massachusetts perceives surfing.